John Kidson (senior) 1808-1875


Gardener, Nelson settler, participant in Wairau Affray and New Zealand Company agitator

John and Amelia Kidson both had secure jobs in England - he was a gardener at the Royal Gardens (now Kew) and she was a lacemaker to Queen Victoria. However, the Industrial Revolution of the 1840s created great unemployment in England, so the Kidsons decided to emigrate to Nelson for a better future for their family. They arrived on the Bolton on 15 March, 1842.

John KidsonJohn Kidson, The Nelson Provincial Museum, 68443-3
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On 10 April, 1843, Kidson wrote to the Reverend Harry Dupuis: "I have been hear[sic] 13 months, and ham happy to say it is a helthey climet. The harbours abound with fish, and there is plentiful supply of potatos from the natives, tho very Dear; but I have got good gardin, plenty of things growing."[sic]

This letter was, however, interrupted. Kidson was enlisted to help crew the boat which transported Arthur Wakefield, Frederick Tuckett and co. to the Wairau Valley to investigate Māori resistance against men surveying there.

Kidson's statement about the Incident (given verbally and transcribed) was published in the Nelson Examiner on 23 December, 1843: "I thought I should have made a stand and faced the enemy, but there was no getting our men together - they kept slipping off one at a time, until there were few left besides the gentlemen and they talked of giving themselves up."1

There were "100 fighting men, and on our side 49 in all, and half of them never fiered a gun in thare lives I ham sartin shore; ford I had to lode thare Peaces for them,"[sic]he later wrote to Rev Dupuis.

Kidson managed to escape and was pursued by three Māori and a dog. "I again took up my gun, and seeing one about to throw what appeared to be a spear, I leveled at his navel and brought him down." He waded through swamps and rivers, climbing a tree to wait for the moon to rise and finally reached Ocean Bay the next afternoon.

Kidson returned to the scene of the battle a few days later to bury the dead with the Reverend Samuel Ironside, a Port Underwood missionary. As the New Zealand Company boat had been taken by Maori, Kidson and four others walked back to Nelson via the Tophouse.

In August 1843, Kidson resumed his letter to Reverend Dupuis in England: " The Peapel are leaving the colany fast and my wife wishes she wass back, but I fear that will never be......"[sic]

The Kidsons saved to buy a piece of land, with John working at the Company store and Amelia preparing bird skins to be sent home to England. In 1850, Kidson signed the Memorial of Mechanics and Labourers 2 claiming compensation from the New Zealand Company for unfulfilled promises.

By 1853, the Kidsons and their 11 children were living on freehold land in Brook Street. Kidson worked as a gardener for resident magistrate, John Poynter, for several years and his son John (jnr) became lighthouse keeper on the Boulder Bank- living there for 30 years and rescuing many people.

Note -  Wairau Affray
At the time of the Wairau Affray, the Government was paralysed by the numerical superiority of Māori (about 6000 European settlers and 120,000 Māori) and knew that the survival of the Colony depended on Maori goodwill. Governor of New Zealand, Robert Fitzroy illustrated this difficulty when he said about the Wairau Incident: "The Europeans were wrong and had no right to build houses upon land who's ownership was disputed. But that, the very bad part of the Wairau affair was the killing of men who had surrendered."

This article is paraphrased from a series of columns written by Joy Stephens and published in the Nelson Mail in 2007


Updated: April 02, 2020


Sources used in this story

  • Memorial of the inhabitants of Nelson to the Govenor-in-Chief, for a fair share of the public expenditure......(1848, September 9) Nelson Examiner and New Zealand Chronicle, 8(340), 111  
  • John Kidson (1808-1875)  letters and papers, The Nelson Provincial Museum
  • Locke, E. (1977) Three ordeals for a gentle settler or John Kidson's long journey home.  Journal of the Nelson Historical Society, 3(3), p.8

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  • My grandfather was Oliver Langman Kidson born 29 Sept 1894 died 28 Jan 1951 could he be related to John Kidson

    Posted by Pip Murdoch, 31/08/2017 1:05pm (7 years ago)

  • My first ancestor to come to NZ..Now revered in the history of the family

    Posted by Alan Kennedy, ()

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Further sources - John Kidson (senior) 1808-1875


 See also the further sources listed in the Wairau Affray story




  • John Kidson (1808-1875)  Letters and papers, The Nelson Provincial Museum
    [includes Letter to Rev. Harry Dupuis from John Kidson  and information on John Kidson's emigration to Nelson]